With few exceptions, the worldwide community of clinics offering first generation stem cell therapies is not usually a source of reliable data. They don’t tend to conduct trials or even much report on the results of their work. Further, the stem cell therapies used can vary enormously in effectiveness. Cells are fickle things and tiny differences in how two groups run exactly the same protocol for sourcing and preparing cells can cause widely divergent outcomes, both between clinics, and from patient to patient for the same clinic. Not that groups are in fact usually running the same protocol; a very broad range of possibilities exist under the umbrella term “stem cell therapy.” Results in one clinic may not generalize well to other clinics; standardization has been slow to arrive. This is all worth bearing in mind when reading reports such as this one.
For a while now, some plastic surgeons have been using stem cells to treat aging, sun-damaged skin. But while they’ve been getting good results, it’s been unclear exactly how these treatments – using adult stem cells harvested from the patient’s own body – work to rejuvenate “photoaged” facial skin. A new microscopic-level study provides the answer: within a few weeks, stem cell treatment eliminates the sun-damaged elastin network and replacing them with normal, undamaged tissues and structures – even in the deeper layers of skin.
The researchers assessed the cellular- and molecular-level effects of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) treatment on sun-damaged (photoaged) facial skin. All 20 patients in the study, average age 56 years, were scheduled for facelift surgery. For each patient, a small sample of fat cells from the abdomen was processed to create patient-specific MSCs. The cultured stem cells were injected under the skin of the face, in front of the ear. When the patients underwent facelift surgery three to four months later, skin samples from the stem cell-treated area were compared to untreated areas.
Histologic and structural under the microscope analysis demonstrated that MSC treatment led to improvement in overall skin structure. Treated areas showed “partial or extensive reversal” of sun-related damage to the skin’s stretchy elastin network – the main skin structure affected by photoaging. In the layer immediately beneath the skin surface, the stem cell-treated areas showed regeneration of a new, fully organized network of fiber bundles and dermal extracellular matrix remodeling changes. In the deeper skin layer, “tangled, degraded, and dysfunctional” deposits of sun-damaged elastin were replaced by a normal elastin fiber network. These changes were accompanied by molecular markers of processes involved in absorbing the abnormal elastin and development of new elastin.